Violent death spate an 'unlucky blip'

A statistical blip rather than a grim trend is behind a sudden spike in violent deaths, say police and criminologists.

There have already been 12 homicide investigations launched so far this year, and two deaths following alleged assaults.

New Zealand has averaged 49.8 murders annually since 2003, while in 2011/12 there were just 43.

If the number of homicides continues at its current rate this year, the rate could top 100 by the year's end.

Homicides include murder and manslaughter cases.

But while police are concerned by the stats and leading criminologist Dr Greg Newbold accepted it was a "worrying trend", he doubted it would continue.

"We have had spikes like this in the past," said Dr Newbold, a University of Canterbury professor.

"Murders tend to be like that. Because we don't have many in New Zealand, they tend to cluster, and then you have periods where there aren't many."

A similar spike occurred in August 2009, when 13 murders occurred in the one month, according to police crime stats.

And it was a brutal start to 2013, with two homicide investigations launched on New Year's Day alone.

Queensland-based Kiwi Murray Wilkinson, 64, was holidaying at Waihi Beach when he was killed checking on a late-night disturbance, while around the same time, Nathan Albert, 27, fatally stabbed outside a property in Panmure, Auckland.

"The holiday period tends to be associated with high levels of crime, especially property crime and violent crime," Dr Newbold said.

"People are out more, they drink more, and there's more domestic violence and more street violence."

Gangs expert and fellow criminologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert agreed that a long, hot summer could have led to more violence.

But he also preferred to think it was an "unlucky blip", similar to one in late 2005 when there was a spate of killings of youths in South Auckland.

"As one cop put it to me, it was about booze and bad luck - people were falling the wrong way and hitting their head, or the blade was hitting an artery instead of an arm. It did not necessarily reflect what was happening on the street."

Murder was often a "very solid indicator" of a state of a nation, Dr Gilbert said.

Police say they're troubled by the spike in homicides but expected the numbers to even out throughout the course of the year.

National Crime Services Manager Detective Superintendent Rod Drew said it was not uncommon for homicide statistics to vary from month to month in any given year.

"However, so far this year, there have been more recorded homicides in the month of January when compared with the same period in recent years," he said.

"Even one homicide is one too many. Not only do these tragic events leave families coping with the loss of their loved one, homicide investigations put a huge strain on our investigative resources."

- Kurt Bayer of APNZ

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